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General Stereotypes

  • Africa is often depicted as if it's one big country instead of a continent. In fact, there are a lot of examples of fiction even inventing extra African countries (see Bulungi).
  • The continent itself calls images of Darkest Africa with diamond mines, jungles, savanna, undiscovered civilizations or creatures, elephants, giraffes, okapis, gorillas, chimpanzees, baboons, meerkats, makis, hippopotamuses, rhinoceroses, lions, leopards, cheetahs, panthers, hyenas, jackals, ostriches, crocodiles, pythons, black and green mambas, tortoises, geckos, chameleons, antelopes, wildebeest, gazelles, water buffaloes, warthogs, vultures, mosquitoes, flesh eating plants, etc. Usually whenever people visit Africa they almost trip over all these omnipresent animals, which they invariably always encounter at a dangerous moment. Luckily, they can always escape by swinging on surprisingly strong vines.
  • Africa is generally assumed to be an entire continent full of black people (with the exception of South Africa, which is instead generally assumed to be full of white people, even though the majority of the population there is indeed black). If there are whites they are always Great White Hunter, Mighty Whitey or Amoral Afrikaner, there are no other options. Apparently all the Asians, Coloreds, Indians, etc. have vanished overnight.
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    • It's sometimes to the point that you'd think North Africa, which is inhabited mainly by Arabs and Berbers, wasn't even part of Africa; e.g. referring to black people in Morocco or Libya as "Africans" as if it distinguished them from everyone else there.
  • In addition, it's a common stereotype that all black Africans essentially look like West Africans, with none of the variety in phenotypes found in Europe or Asia. This stereotype is especially common in the US, because it's assumed that all Africans look like African-Americans or Caribs, who are mostly descended from West Africans. As a result, East African phenotypes in particular are extremely rare in depictions of black Africans.
  • Similarly, people seem to think that Africa is just jungles and savanna with no cities or towns, just loads of small rural villages that are many miles apart. That North Africa looks nothing like this (especially Egypt) is usually forgotten.
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  • Also, it's often thought that most Africans still practice voodoo and/or nature religions, like primitive tribes used to do. In reality, Christianity and especially Islam are the largest religions on the continent, though voodoo is actually still practiced to an extent in some West African countries, particularly Benin.
  • Out-of-date, racist images of Africa that crop up a lot in old novels particularly, have their roots in colonial times (Ancient Africa). Black Africans are depicted as childlike, primitive, superstitious people who still worship idols, believe in voodoo and witchcraft and live in huts. They defend themselves with spears and shields. White colonists can easily trick them by selling them worthless junk in exchange for valuable items or scare them with modern technology.
    • The tribe's wizard is always a manipulative fraud wearing a huge imposing mask covering his true identity. He will usually be scaring his naïve tribesmen into turning against the Mighty Whitey visiting their town. When The Natives Are Restless some Jungle Drums will start playing.
    • Pygmy tribes are usually small, pathetic little dwarfs who are depicted as if they are actually children.
    • Black African tribes are often portrayed as if they are cannibals. They will catch the Bold Explorer and carry him along with his arms and legs tied to a pole. After arriving in their village they will put him in a large black cauldron for supper. When they escape they will Chased by Angry Natives.
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    • Other stereotypical images are the woman with a lip plate in her mouth or a man with a bone sticking through his nose.
    • Stereotypical female black African depictions include the bare-breasted woman with large hanging breasts and enormous buttocks (examples of this stereotype are the 19th century sideshow attraction Saartjie Baartman and Robert Crumb's comic strip character Angelfood Mcspade) or the woman who wears multiple rings around her giraffe-like neck. Note this type of neck ornament is also common in Myanmar/Burma with women from the Kayan tribe, but is generally associated with Africa.
    • If they are not hunting wild animals they'll be eating maniok. Their favorite pastime is playing the djembé while everyone dances and jumps around like crazy. When they cross a lake by pirogue they will be singing in unison while paddling.
      • Sometimes there actually is a white person living in the African jungle. He or she is usually Raised by Wolves, apes or just Going Native. He/she will spent their pastime swinging from a vine, living in a Treehouse of Fun and protecting all animals from the evil poachers. If its a woman she will be a Jungle Princess dressed in a Fur Bikini. As always these white jungle people will be called "savage" despite actually being able to speak enough English to be understandable, wearing enough Loincloth to avoid the censors and having enough manners to not repulse the audiences. They will rule over the jungle animals and even the local black tribes, who in comparison will still be more primitive than our Mighty Whitey Nature Hero.
  • More modern stereotypical images of black Africans are the starving little child and the mother with multiple starving kids with flies swarming all over them, probably in some sort of refugee camp or hospital. In fact, the words "hunger and drought" have almost become synonymous with Africa.
    • All Africans speak Pidgin English in popular fiction or talk in sentences like: "Me very afraid, bwana!"
    • To this day Africans are still portrayed as being laidback, not to say "lazy", people. They take their time to do things and prefer sitting down under a palm tree. Especially the men are seen as a Lazy Husband who just sits there while their wives do all the work. Just like the siesta in Southern European countries, this behaviour mostly stems from the hot African climate. In Western (especially American) civilization where "time is money", African laid back attitudes are seen as something to be ashamed of. This is even associated with white Africans: South African English, and Afrikaans, has the word justnow, which illustrates a certain mañana mentality which Africa has given to its white population. Justnow - the two words always run into each other - is a phrase you hear a lot in South Africa. It denotes an elastic interpretation of time where the contemplated activity might be completed in five minutes time, in an hour, later today, tomorrow, next week, next month, or possibly never. If pressed and made aware of a sense of urgency, the Saffie might go up a gear and switch to na-now, but even this is elastic.
    • This is also where the idea of "backwards Africa" comes from. Most utilities found in the continent are very primitive and out-of-date. Black Africans are often portrayed as being too stupid or lazy to make something better or more useful out of them. Of course, not all Western countries really bother to provide them with better and more modern stuff anyway.
    • This lack of proper public education also explains one of Africa's largest problems: the spread of various deadly diseases which gave the continent another negative association. It sometimes seems Everything Is Trying to Kill You in Africa: AIDS, Ebola, malaria, yellow fever...
    • Africa has a reputation for brutal and often crazy dictators who oppress and massacre their own citizens by the score. They will usually be kept in power by Western governments to support their own benefits in the countries. Yet, just like the clichés about Latin America, most of these dictatorships are very short-term and one tyrant will quickly be replaced by another. If an African dictator is directly referenced it's usually Idi Amin (Uganda), Bokassa (Central African Republic) or Mobutu (Democratic Republic of the Congo/Zaire).
    • All African countries are constantly torn apart by tribal warfare between ill-disciplined thugs wielding machetes and AK-47's and committing genocide. They will exploit young boys into becoming child soldiers and excess in gruesome murder, torture and rape crimes. This trope is usually thought of as applying specifically to sub-Saharan Africa (except for South Africa).
  • Africans of any nationality are conspicuously absent from beat 'em up videogames, especially as this medium is usually presented as some sort of tournament involving fighters from "all over the world". This often leads to cries of ignorance and prejudice in fan-forums. North American, European and Asian characters make up the lion's share of characters and in the main beat 'em up series, Street Fighter's Elena, a native of Kenya, is one of the few African fighters depicted. Arguably, this might be explained by Hollywood Atlas. Beat 'em ups rely heavily on exploiting well-known National Stereotypes when presenting characters (especially the pioneering Street Fighter series), and for many people, African culture, iconography and the multitude of nationalities therein all blend into one big melange, which Elena, as a Savannah-dwelling, Masaii-inspired Kenyan covers off nicely. It's far easier to design characters from England, Italy, China, Japan, etc. because there are such distinct, iconically familiar, universally recognizable national character/appearance traits that can be referenced and parodied for these countries — put simply, most of the game-buying public could not tell the difference between Kenyan and Tanzanian culture.
  • To conclude with a more joyful, yet very romanticized idea of Africa: archaeologists widely see it as the birth place of mankind. Many prehistoric fossils of the first hominids have been found in Southern, East and Central Africa and indeed many tourists are attracted to Africa's rural atmosphere, almost as if they are coming home. Typical images exploited by safari tourism are the sun rising above the equator, intense heat that makes the horizon appear to vibrate, elephants crossing the savanna and watching lions from the safety of your jeep.
  • All African music is either African Chant, Afrobeat or Jungle Drums.

North Africa

  • Mostly many of the same desert clichés and stereotypes found in The Middle East (see Asia).
    • The people of the Maghreb (Morocco, Libya, Algeria and Tunisia. While Mauritania is usually included in West Africa instead of North, it's also part of the Maghreb) tend to be lumped together by Eastern Arabs, which is kind of a shame. They are universally stereotyped as The Unintelligible, as their dialect is very hard to understand (foreigners should think of Russian with even more difficult consonants).note  They also get a fair amount of "Berber" stereotype mixed in, which is similar to that of Bedouin, only not Arab.

Algeria

  • Best known for being a former French colony between 1830 and 1961. The Algerian War for Independence (1954-1961) was one of the most well known conflicts for independence, immortalized in the film The Battle of Algiers (1966). Various internationally famous Frenchmen were also born in Algeria before usually moving back to France afterwards, like novelist Albert Camus, fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and boxer Marcel Cerdan (with whom Édith Piaf had a relationship).
  • Legion of Lost Souls: The French Foreign Legion is another legendary phenomenon associated with the country. Expect people with a Mysterious Past to enlist in said army, usually a Heartbroken Badass, political refugees and/or various rogues and scoundrels and the like. They are always depicted wearing white khepis while standing guard at lonely outposts in the Sahara. In real life, the Legion operates in a variety of environments and conflicts (such as French Indochina) and wears camouflage as needed.
  • Infamous for a long civil war between 1991 and 2002.
  • Algeria is also known for a specific kind of folk music, named raï, which in the 1980s became more popular in the West too, when the local government finally accepted it as a national treasure. The most internationally famous Algerian musician is Cheb Khaled, aka Khaled, who scored two big hits with “Didi” (1992) and “Aïcha” (1996).
  • Algeria has also been the largest country in Africa since Sudan split into two countries, although most of it is uninhabited desert outside of the coast.

Egypt:

  • Ancient Egypt: In popular culture Egypt Is Still Ancient: pyramids, mummies, sphinxes (like the one in Gizeh), ancient tombs, hieroglyphs, obelisks, sarcophaguses, pharaohs (expect references to Cleopatra VII, Cheops, Ramses II, Nefertete, Tutankhamun or Akhenaten), and characters "walking like an Egyptian".
    • Pyramid Power: Characters will usually discover an ancient yet undiscovered tomb built in honor of some pharaoh. The entire treasure will be present, but when they try to leave they are threatened by the "Curse of the Mummy". Either a mummy rises from its grave or they all fall ill or die in mysterious circumstances.
    • Egyptians are also frequently portrayed as hypnotists.
  • The Nile, Alexandria, the piramids of Cheops, the sphinx of Gizeh, the temple of Luxor and Abu Simbel, the Aswan Dam, Port Said and the Suez Canal might get referenced too.
  • In the Bible Egypt is most famous for the story about Moses leading the exodus of his people.
  • In 1798 Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Egypt. Among the people he brought along with him was archaeologist François Champollion, who deciphered the Egyptian hieroglyphs, which led to an increase in public interest in Egyptian history and culture ever since.
  • In the 1950s Egypt finally got noticed by the rest of the world again, when Gamal Abdel Nasser became head of state and turned the centuries old monarchy into a republic. In 1956 he also caused a major economical crisis when he nationalized the Suez Canal, which led various western powers to go to war with Egypt. Since then the only major events that attracted international interest were the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1981 and the 2011 Egyptian revolution which ousted president Hosni Mubarak from power.
  • Culturally the world knows two world famous Egyptians: legendary and influential singer Umm Khultum and film icon Omar Sharif.
  • Out of all the Arab countries, this is the one most likely to be depicted with anything approaching affection for Israel.
  • In Arabic countries themselves Egyptians are seen as laid-back. They are always cracking very lowbrow, overstated jokes about everything; Pungeon Master also comes into play, as does Boisterous Bruiser (without the alcohol, most of the time). They are often considered Book Dumb, but also quick-witted when it comes to solving practical problems. Nevertheless proud—if sometimes vaguely—of Egypt's ancient heritage, as evidenced by the phrase Masr omm ad-dunya ("Egypt [is] the mother of the world"); this has occasionally given others in the Arab world indigestion. Historically also seen as kind of submissive; this was proven wrong in the most epic way imaginable and they did it again in 2013.
  • Egyptian women have a reputation as Belly Dancers; Egyptians kind of brought this one on themselves, as Egyptian movies (the most popular ones in the Arab world) always have one.

Libya

  • From 1969 tot 2011 the country was most famous for dictator Muammar Gaddafi and support of terrorism. Expect references to Libya from that period to be mostly references to Gaddafi. For instance, a Libyan character will be wearing the same Cool Shades he did.
  • The city Cyrene may ring a bell to biblical scholars, because of Simon of Cyrene, who carried Jesus' cross a few miles for him.

Morocco

  • Morocco, with its deserts and many bazaars, is used as a template for "Middle Eastern" settings, and almost any Arab country (or generically "Middle Eastern" country) depicted in a live-action movie will almost always be filmed in Morocco. It has a big enough desert to build sets in (far away enough from major cities), while being secular enough that nobody will come and arrest you for having alcohol and girls in Ms. Fanservice outfits. This is even referenced in films like Casablanca and Naked Lunch, where Morocco is depicted as a place where you can enjoy the excitement of participating in illegal activities.
  • Known for Berbers, carpets and scimitars.
  • Occasionally whinges to Spain about those little bits of territory at its northern end, not that Spain cares.

Sudan

  • Only known in the West for genocide and arresting people who give teddy bears Muslim names. It is now divided into the Muslim Sudan in North Africa and the Christian South Sudan in East Africa.
  • Darfur Conflict and lots of rape, murder and refugees.
  • Muslim Sudan is like the Congo, but hotter, sandier and with people yelling "Allau Akbar!"
  • South Sudan is the world's newest nation.
  • In The British Empire and the Anglophone it became the embodiment of The Horde during the Mahdist Revolt which captured Khartoum resulting in the death of General George Gordon, and leading to a war for revenge on the part of the Victorian public.

Tunisia

  • Historically they are best known for the empire Carthage, who were able to give the powerful Roman empire a hard time when conqueror Hannibal crossed the Alps with his elephants and invaded Italy.
  • Tunisia is also a popular film location, usually for biblical films and TV series, like Jesus of Nazareth and Monty Python's Life of Brian, but different kind of pictures like A New Hope and Raiders of the Lost Ark have also been filmed here.

Southern Africa

South Africa

  • From 1948 until 1994 Apartheid used to be this country's most notorious aspect, see for instance the Spitting Image song I've Never Met a Nice South African. Even though that system has been abolished it remains associated with the country.
    • Amoral Afrikaner: White upper class South Africans are either "Rooineks" (British white South Africans) or "Afrikaners" (die-hard Nationalists and apartheid supporters). Usually they will wear khaki shirts and live in a big mansion or a hovel, lamenting the good old days when apartheid was still in effect. They are all viciously racist and bluntly call their servants "boys" and all black people "kaffirs". Middle class apparently doesn't exist, even though in reality South Africa is the most middle-class African country. There also seem to exist no white South Africans of anything other than British or Dutch descent in popular culture, despite the fact that there are also a lot of people with Portuguese, Greek, Italian, Jewish and Lebanese ancestry.
    • South African TV characters in non-South African programmes are disproportionately white. This has a partial justification because of apartheid — whites are more likely to be able to afford to leave the country. Still, said justification is getting pretty dated by now, given the size of the non-white middle class these days (a recent news story claimed that more black than white folks were emigrating, make of that what you will). White South Africans will always be racist and stinking rich. This is probably because of The Law of Conservation of Detail. South Africa is where most white sub-Saharan Africans are from; if writers were looking for a black African character, they would likely pick some other African country.
    • If black South Africans do get portrayed, it's always in the context of the end of Apartheid, with Nelson Mandela often getting name-dropped.
    • In post-Apartheid media, white South African men will almost always be mercenaries. This has a degree of truth to it, as the first PMC, Executive Outcomes, was founded by a former South African special forces officer and most of its personnel came from the apartheid-era military, which downsized significantly after 1994. This is a large part of the Amoral Afrikaner trope.
  • South Africans will always speak Afrikaans or speak mangled English where they swallow certain syllables, over-emphasise the rolled "r", or flatten vowel sounds. It's always important to drop the word "wildebeest" at one point.
    • South African comedian Trevor Noah remarked that whenever a South African tries to speak German, it sounds like an Adolf Hitler speech to Germans. All Germans hear a South African accent in spoken German and think "Hitler".
  • Generally seen as the most Westernized of the African countries, with some outright considering it part of the West, though it still retains much of it's African culture and traditions.

West Africa

Liberia

  • An African country founded by African-Americans.
  • One of the only two countries in Africa to not be colonized by Europeans, the other being Ethiopia (though Ethiopia was briefly taken over by Italy in World War II).
  • Home of Raiden from the Metal Gear franchise and George Weah.

Mali

  • Known primarily for the ancient city of Timbuktu, speculated by Europeans to be the African equivalent of El Dorado.
  • Now known for UN Peacekeeping missions due to the rise of terrorism in the country.

Nigeria

  • Nigerians and West Africans in general are known across Africa as Internet scammers and people involved in Black Magic or Voodoo, whom you better not to mess with.
  • Music fans known it solely for being the birth place of Fela Kuti.
  • Sometimes acknowledged as the greatest powerhouse of sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Expect African Terrorists to come from here if not from Somalia or Uganda.
  • Most African-Americans are of Nigerian descent.

Sierra Leone

  • In a constant state of civil war for control over the diamond mines, with rebels hacking peoples limbs off.

East Africa

Ethiopia

  • Ethiopia's pretty much only known in the West now for its horrific famines, thanks to that particularly brutal one it suffered through in the 1970s and '80s that led to Live Aid, Band Aid, "Do They Know It's Christmas?", etc. Otherwise it's lumped in with the rest of sub-Saharan Africa in terms of being thought of as a heavily pagan, juju spirit-believing culture, although Orthodox Christianity was introduced in the 4th century, Judaism even earlier, and there is a decently large Muslim population.
  • It's one of the two countries in the Horn of Africa (the other being Eritrea, though Eritrea has a huge Muslim minority with them being almost half the population of the country) that aren't Muslim.
  • It's also known as Kenya's main rival in running competitions, although in a Always Second Best way.
  • Known for it's extremely delicious food, particularly injera/wat.

Kenya

  • Kenyans are known for being exceptionally fast runners and for the massive abundance of stereotypical African wildlife (Lions, Elephants, and Giraffes, oh my!) that live in the Masai Mara, a nature reserve that crosses the border between Kenya and Tanzania, where it is known as the Serengeti. Oh and, speaking of Masai, every Kenyan who isn't dressed for a marathon at the moment, is dressed in red cloth and carries a spear.
  • More ignorant people think U.S. President Barack Obama was born there. In reality only his family hails from this country, which still prides the local population.
  • Among Cricket followers, they are considered an able second-unit team that has on occasion won quite a few underdog victories.
  • Birthplace of Richard Dawkins.

Madagascar

  • Yes, there's a movie series named after it. No, the real Madagascar is nothing like the movies. For starters there are no penguins; there are lemurs, though, but they don't "like to move it, move it".

Rwanda & Burundi

  • Best known for the 1994 genocide between the Hutu and Tutsi population, which inspired Hotel Rwanda.

Somalia

  • Somalian people are usually portrayed as being very tall and very skinny. In the rest of Africa, they (as well as other peoples from the Horn of Africa) are stereotyped as not being real "Africans" or not looking black enough, under the assumption that they descend from Arabians and other multiracial invaders. In reality, most peoples in Somalia have lived in the Horn of Africa for thousands of years. And despite their location on a major trade route (between the Middle East and North Africa on one hand and Central Africa and Southeast Asia on the other), they show surprisingly little genetic admixture.
  • Historically, Somalians are known for being the first people to domesticate the camel and spread it all around the Middle East and Africa.
  • In more recent times the country is mostly known for the twenty year old civil war that ravaged everything and created an absence of a functioning central government during that time. Somalia is often said to be a real-life example of anarchism. Depending on the writer's political views, this situation will be heavily romanticized or unbelievably grim.
  • Somalis are mostly depicted as being Muslims with many children. Four children is a small family to them. So many Somalis have fled the problems in their country and migrated to Europe that they're seen as a problem by some people there.
  • Since the 2000s Somalia is seen as an increasingly poor, backwards and primitive country in the West. Women are still forced to undergo inhuman circumcisions at a young age and when you travel by sea pirates will attack your ship.
  • Terrorist outfits like Al-Shabaab use the chaos in Somalia to operate unmolested.
  • On a more positive note, Somalia has also produced many famous and beautiful female models.

Tanzania

  • Best known for being the birthplace of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. He was born Farrukh Bulgaria on the island of Zanzibar.

Uganda

  • During the 1970s it was most famous for dictator Idi Amin.
  • The origin of "Discussing Uganda", as well as Ugandan Knuckles.
  • Crazy rebel generals who use child soldiers, like Joseph Kony.

Zimbabwe

  • In the years when it was still called "Rhodesia", it was best known for being Cecil Rhodes' former colony and an apartheid state not too different from South Africa. However, roving journalist Max Hastings visited Rhodesia during The Apartheid Era and remarked that its application of apartheid pulled off the major feat of making the South African version seem liberal and enlightened.
  • Up until 2009, Zimbabwe was notorious for its extreme hyperinflation.

Central Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo

  • A war-torn country where all sorts of atrocities happen every day.
  • Literature lovers know it for being the setting to Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness as well as the controversial Tintin album Tintin in the Congo.
  • Historically it’s best known as Belgium’s only colony between 1884 and 1960, though until 1909 it was mainly private property of Belgian king Leopold II. He exploited the country’s riches without concern for the local population, much like a modern day capitalist. Compared with the atrocities committed under his rule the colony had a less bloody colonial history after his death, when he donated his private colony to the Belgian government. In 1960 Congo became independent but succumbed into a civil war, with Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba being assassinated with knowledge and support of the Belgian government. Between 1965 and 1997 it was run by dictator Seko Seko Mobutu, one of the more recognizable African presidents due to his leopard skin hat. Since then Congo is still a war-torn dictatorship where all sorts of atrocities happen every day.
  • Between 1971 and 1997 Congo was known under the name ‘Zaire’. It became the center of international attention in 1974 when the legendary boxing event “The Rumble of the Jungle” took place in Zaire between boxing legends George Foreman and Muhammad Ali.
  • Congo is known for its mineral wealth, particularly rubber, coltan, cobalt, copper, diamonds and uranium.
  • The most famous animal is the Congolese gorilla, who lives in the mountainous areas.
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